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Heart Lessons        < Previous        Next >

 

Did Christians Really Kill Indians

With Smallpox Blankets?

 

Some textbooks teach kids that in the 1800s in pioneer America, people in power purposely gave Native Americans blankets infected with the deadly smallpox virus as a form of genocide - to wipe them out so that the whites could take over.

 

Reportedly, this atrocious assertion is commonly taught in Muslim schools overseas, and adults and children alike really believe it. It creates hatred and mistrust of the United States. And that's dangerous, especially in these days of threatened biomedical terrorism such as unleashing an epidemic of anthrax and other diseases.

 

But it's a lie.

 

Apparently, the implication that there was widespread, deliberate spreading of smallpox to kill off Native Americans was made up in the 1990s by disgraced University of Colorado ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill. Churchill, made famous by a statement comparing the victims of the 2001 Twin Towers bombings as being like "little Eichmanns," was later fired by his university for various forms of misconduct. Unfortunately, the smallpox-blanket lie persists despite Churchill's being discredited.

 

There has been ample scholarship indicating that thousands or even millions of Native Americans did indeed die from diseases that probably were brought to North and South America by European colonists. But the infection was accidental and couldn't be helped; the native people did not have natural, genetically-built up immunity to various diseases, including smallpox.

 

But the idea that widespread, deliberate murder of Indians through smallpox blankets was fabricated and greatly exaggerated, based apparently on a letter written by a British captain named Ecuyer in the 1700s. He evidently did give two blankets and a handkerchief that contained the deadly smallpox virus to Indians at Fort Pitt, in what is now Pittsburgh, Pa., in an attempt to kill them. That was during the French and Indian War. But that is the only piece of evidence, as inconclusive as it is, that "germ warfare" was conducted on purpose against Native Americans, and it wasn't by United States citizens at any rate.

 

It might be worth a look in your child's history or social studies textbook, to see if this fabrication is repeated. If you have a friend who is Muslim or from a foreign country, you might want to send these references in an attempt to debunk a harmful stereotype if it is there. You just never know if the truth might reduce the enmity between people, and prevent an act of hatred that could kill and hurt innocent people.

 

For an interesting look at smallpox in the 1800s, see:

 

www.thefurtrapper.com/indian_smallpox.htm

 

More about Ward Churchill and allegations of misconduct, fabrication and plagiarism:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ward_Churchill

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.GoBigEd.com Heart Lessons 043 2007

 

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